Deep Structures of the Cultural Marxism Myth

Jeet Heer has posted a timely and excellent essay at New Republic titled “Trump’s Racism and the Cultural Marxism Myth.” In his essay, Heer recounts much of the background to the Higgins memo that I have documented here, here and here. Heer credits William S. Lind as the major popularizer of the myth, as have I in my blog posts. What I’m posting here extends the analysis and reveals significant background about personnel and timelines to the story.

In my most recent post, I started to probe further back into the myth’s history with an examination of Eliseo Vivas’s over-the-top invective against Herbert Marcuse since the late 1960s. Vivas was deeply offended by Marcuse’s writing and expressed his displeasure in several articles and a book, Conta Marcuse. He was also a frequent contributor to the journals, Modern Age and Intercollegiate Review both of which are associated with the conservative organization, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute or ISI. From a snippet of a speech by ISI president T. Kenneth Cribb in Ellen Messer-Davidow’s 1993 article, “Manufacturing the Attack on Liberalized Higher Education” I had the hunch that the ISI might offer a clue to the metamorphosis from Vivas’s anti-Marcuse screeds to the full-blown cultural Marxism myth that appeared in Lind’s pamphlet, Pat Buchanan’s book, Higgins’s memo and Anders Breivik’s manifesto.

Cribb is a pivotal character in this saga. He was national director of the ISI from 1972 to 1977, then, after earning a law degree went to work for Edwin Meese during the Reagan campaign in 1980 and ended up Counselor to the Attorney General and subsequently Assistant for Domestic Affairs to President Reagan. After the end of the Reagan administration, Cribb returned to the ISI to serve as president of that organization from 1989 to 2011.

Krawattennazis Rich Higgins and T. Kenneth Cribb

In 1989, Cribb gave an address to the Heritage Foundation on “Conservatism and the American Academy: Prospects for the 1990s” in which he outlined his vision for a “sustained counteroffensive” on what he characterized as “the last Leftist redoubt, the college campus.” Cribb painted a picture of relentless persecution and harassment of conservatives in American universities taken mostly from Peter Collier and David Horowitz’s Destructive Generation: Second Thoughts about the Sixties. He boasted of the ISI’s readiness for that counteroffensive:

In addition to saving a remnant that renews the font of conservative ideas, we are now strong enough to establish a contemporary presence for conservatism on campus, and contest the Left on its own turf. We plan to do this by greatly expanding the ISI field effort, its network of campus-based programming.

Cribb was unequivocal in his view that academia was “the one redoubt left to it [the left] by the successful conservative counterattack of the 1970s and 1980s.” His promised counteroffensive was thus presented as a mop-up operation for the establishment of a “free” society, which is to say a traditionalist society freed of the nuisances of relativism and other non-conservative heresies.

Fifteen years into that mop-up operation, Cribb contributed a chapter to William Lind’s Political Correctness: a Short History of an Ideology, the locus classicus of the cultural Marxism myth. Cribb’s chapter was titled “Political Correctness in Higher Education.” It presented anecdotes from conservative college newspapers affiliated with the ISI meant to illustrate the “alarming rate” at which “the freedom to articulate and discuss ideas” was being eroded by incidents of intolerance and corruption of the curriculum to downplay the significance of Western Civilization.

“While it would be easy to dismiss such demonstrations of intolerance as student pranks,” he admitted, “these incidents are the surface manifestations of a more pervasive and insidious trend…” The headline outrage was the burning of “hundreds (sometimes thousands) of copies of conservative student newspapers.”  He concluded his chapter with a brief account of the ISI’s efforts to stem the tide of the alarming erosion of freedom. Along with other sections of the Lind book, whole passages from Cribb’s chapter were ‘cribbed’ by Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik for his manifesto.

Curiously, there was no mention in Cribb’s 1989 address to the Heritage Foundation of Herbert Marcuse, the Frankfurt School or cultural Marxism nor was there in the book by Collier and Horowitz book that Cribb had cited. “Politically correct” gets four hits though. Yet Horowitz  and Collier were active participants in 1960s New Left extremism. Similarly, ISI poster boy Dinesh D’Souza’s Illiberal Education from 1991 contains one brief and not particularly scathing mention of Marcuse and one reference political correctness but no mention of the Frankfurt School or cultural Marxism.

The political correctness. cultural Marxism stew didn’t get all its ingredients until the 1992 article, “New Dark Age: Frankfurt School and Political Correctness,” whose author, Michael J. Minnicino, subsequently disowned his work as “hopelessly deformed by self-censorship and the desire to in some way support Mr. LaRouche’s crack-brained world-view.” That fine piece of Western Civilization scholarship was then taken over and reworked by Lind in 1997.

At last we have a doctrine, a vanguard organization, and a timeline. But most importantly, courtesy of the Larouche cult, we now have a suitably unitary devil-function. The “basic Nazi trick,” as Kenneth Burke labeled “the ‘curative’ unification by a fictitious devil-function, gradually made convincing by the sloganizing repetitiousness of standard advertising technique.” Helpfully, in a 1988 address to the Heritage Foundation,William F. Campbell explained why conservatives need such a devil-function:

But as first and second generation conservatives have always known, and had to live with as an unpleasant skeleton in the family closet, there is sharp tension, if not contradiction, between the traditionalist and the libertarian wings of the conservative movement. They have been held together primarily because of their common enemies, modern egalitarianism and totalitarian collectivism, which they both abhor. 

In 1988, when Campbell made those remarks, the Soviet Union still existed and could serve the primary role of common enemy, symbolizing the alien totalitarian destiny of domestic egalitarianism. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, a new enemy had to be conjured. The Higgins memo is testament to the contortions that must be endured to conjure that devil.

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